BACKGROUND. The institutional maternal mortality ratio (iMMR) in South Africa (SA) is still unacceptably high. A key recommendation
from the National Committee on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths has been to improve the availability and quality of care for
women suffering obstetric emergencies.
OBJECTIVES. To determine whether there was a change in the number of maternal deaths and in the iMMR over time that could be attributed
to the training of >80% of healthcare professionals by means of a specifically designed emergency obstetric care (EmOC) training programme.
METHODS. A before-and-after study was conducted in 12 healthcare districts in SA, with the remaining 40 districts serving as a comparison
group. Twelve ‘most-in-need’ healthcare districts in SA were selected using a composite scoring system. Multiprofessional skills-and-drills
workshops were held off-site using the Essential Steps in Managing Obstetric Emergencies and Emergency Obstetric Simulation Training
programme. Eighty percent or more of healthcare professionals providing maternity care in each district were trained between October 2012
and March 2015. Institutional births and maternal deaths were assessed for the period January 2011 - December 2016 and a before-andafter-
training comparison was made. The number of maternal deaths and the iMMR were used as outcome measures.
RESULTS. A total of 3 237 healthcare professionals were trained at 346 workshops. In all, 1 248 333 live births and 2 212 maternal deaths
were identified and reviewed for cause of death as part of the SA confidential enquiries. During the same period there were 5 961 maternal
deaths and 5 439 870 live births in the remaining 40 districts. Significant reductions of 29.3% in the number of maternal deaths (risk ratio
(RR) 0.71, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.66 - 0.77) and 17.5% in the number of maternal deaths from direct obstetric causes (RR 0.825,
95% CI 0.73 - 0.93) were recorded. When comparing the percentage change in iMMR for equivalent before-and-after periods, there was a
greater reduction in all categories of causes of maternal death in the intervention districts than in the comparison districts.
CONCLUSIONS. Implementing a skills-and-drills EmOC training package was associated with a significant reduction in maternal deaths.